$5 Cover -- TV Review

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Take the Southern-fried cinematic style of the 2005 indie darling "Hustle & Flow," inject the airbrushed artifice of MTV's "The Hills," apply the fragmented online format popularized by "lonelygirl15," and you have "$5 Cover." If that concept is too outre to stomach, give "Cover" a chance anyway, for no other reason than its fantastic musical performances.

"Hustle" director Craig Brewer was recruited by MTV for its first original Internet production, which will be repackaged on air in half-hour episodes. But "Cover" really takes shape online, supplementing its core collection of 15 shortform episodes with mini-documentaries, blog posts, music videos and more.

Like "Hustle," "Cover" is Brewer's valentine to young creatives in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn. But here it's actual musicians staging purely fictional story lines set in and out of the city's thriving music scene. Featured artists include upright bassist Amy LaVere, rapper Al Kapone and chanteuse Kate Crowder.

Rather than take the documentary route and simply follow their lives, MTV pursues a creative path that likely will be off-putting to anyone outside of fans of un-reality TV like "Hills." Were one to base one's impression of Memphis entirely on "Cover," then one might assume it is populated entirely by drop-dead-gorgeous bed-hoppers.

When LaVere and Clare Grant find their friendship tested by a love triangle, they put the man between them in perspective. "I don't want to be pissed at you," LaVere says. "They're just drummers."

It's not that this blurring of real artists and fake stories is "Monkees"-level silly; think more along the lines of "Singles," Cameron Crowe's 1992 ode to twentysomething love and the Seattle grunge subculture. Such rock gods as Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell acted in that film without destroying their careers, which bodes well for "Cover's" performers.

But the romantic intrigue in "Cover" is really a slender thread by which to weave together standout concert scenes. That's the beauty of dispensing with TV and experiencing "Cover" at fivedollarcover.com, where one can bypass the narrative and dive headlong into the music videos and mini-docs that explore the city and artists in detail.

In success, it would be great to see "Cover" elevate Memphis music as films like "Once" did for Irish troubadours or "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" did for bluegrass.

Airdate: Midnight-12:30 a.m. Friday, May 1 (MTV/fivedollarcover.com)
Production: Unbreakable Prods.
Cast: Amy LaVere, Muck Sticky, Clare Grant, Al Kapone, Valerie June, Ben Nichols, Kate Crowder
Creator: Craig Brewer
Executive producers: David Gale, Van Toffler
Producers: Scott Bomar, Erin Hagee, David Harris
Co-producer: Jen Ringel
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